Blended learning does not have one look. Essentially, a blended school provides students with a physical space to connect with online curriculum and build strong face to face relationships with their teachers. The mission of the school, the answer to the “why” the institution exists defines what blended learning looks like for their students.
This morning we got the opportunity to attend the K12 inc. Lunch and Learn event – “Virtual Learning… It’s Not a Matter of When, But How” at the EMP Museum in Seattle. Superintendents, curriculum directors, teachers, and principals were all in attendance to learn more about the blended and online learning environment. Gregg Levin, Senior VP at K12 inc. kicked off the event with an overview of where the organization is headed as they work to transform education both inside and outside the classroom. Since it’s founding in the year 2000, K12 has partnered with over 2,000 school districts in all of the 50 states. Through much experience, the people of K12, with the help of Jean Southland of Silicon Valley Flex Academy and Ted Feller of Evergreen Public Schools were a natural fit to lead an in depth and thoughtful discussion on best practices for blended learning.
Jean Southland took the group on a virtual “forest walk” through what online and blended learning looks at the Silicon Valley Flex Academy. This 6-12 school started in 2011 and already serves 300 students that will all graduate college ready. Using K12 curriculum, Silicon Flex looks less like a traditional school and more like a modern workspace that allows for student choice and ownership of learning on a daily basis.
Ted Feller and Evergreen PS have worked with K12 to essentially redesign the district services to offer schools of choice and give every student options. To start, they developed an online school, IQ Academy Washington within the brand new Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School, a new flex school. The dropout prevention program was revamped to get the dropout students back inside the high schools to build relationships with teachers. A Middle School world language program-where courses are taught throughout the district virtually, gives every student full access to Spanish, French, Mandarin and German. The parent partnership program helps homeschooling parents achieve the rigor and guidance for their students and parents are loving it. Ted Feller and K12 were determined to use online learning to aid students in getting exactly what they need and find success in school.
After some great conversations, here are 10 important points to think about when implementing and creating blended learning spaces:
Teacher at the center. A great teacher is critically important for any learning model. It’s important to automate the workflow for teachers which will free up time for them to work with students. It’s imperative to think about how you onboard your teachers and how you’re helping them make the shift from being the teacher on stage to taking more of a “coaching” role in the classroom.
Teacher support is vital. Blended or Online learning doesn’t mean schools will need less teachers. Instead it creates a way to keep teachers the most important figure in the classroom. At Silicon Valley Flex, teachers have the ability to see each student’s screen at any point in time. This allows instructors to ensure students are having focused work time as well as the capability to help their students at any point.
Quality and ongoing PD builds culture. Having a shared vision will increase success. Peer observations are said to be helpful and get staff speaking the same language; thus strengthening the shared vision. Strive to provide real time help and support resources like youtube videos and professional learning communities. Silicon Valley Flex Academy has a full month in the summer to prepare teachers before school even starts. Orientate the school around students, not around content but leave no room for excuses.
Determine technology. Take into account what your school’s “learning problem” is. What technology will you use? How will it help your school overcome this problem? To successfully implement any technology you must plan, act, observe, and reflect. As students progress, k12 automatically creates a digital portfolio that follows the student the entire time
Ease of use is essential. Create a simplified user experience, making all data just one click away, the teacher tools are easy to use so that implementation can happen immediately and without frustration- get rid of the systems that are too complex for teachers and administrators to learn and manage.
Rigorous and engaging curriculum. Students need access to course work they would not have access to in a traditional brick and mortar setting. K12 is building “wizards” so that students can search in specific libraries. If the thought of offering AP courses or any world language seemed impossible before, it is not a very doable possibility for any student to enroll.
Track student progress and data. Assessment tools should give robust reporting and effective data visualization so that teachers are able to quickly find which student needs help. Teachers can also use the provided assessment tools or build their own assessments. Data should be measurable, and most importantly USED! “It’s how you’re getting the power out of a learning experience” says Southland. Silicon Valley staff picks 3-5 data points to track in order to avoid become overwhelmed while still having open, productive conversations around the numbers.
A large searchable content catalog (from preK-12). The content catalog should provide a rich set of solutions and have the ability to interface with any learning management system (LMS) and student information system (SIS). Teachers should be provided the ability to search for resources as well as load their self-developed contract into a district wide library to share with others.
Tools that give instant access. Mobile apps, etc. K12 offers the “Peak K12” mobile app and the content is built so it can be accessed from any device. Peak K12 allows for teachers to work on the weekends and at home- getting work done anywhere. Using it on the ipad in the classroom to look up students progress while standing next to that student’s desk letting them personalize their instruction directly to that individual student’s needs. Also includes a tool to pull out specific data points and email progress summary to students and soon to parents as well.
An online platform that does not limit. Teachers and students should be to develop curriculum, learning plans, and course paths. Whatever online platform you use, make sure it’s flexible and gives teachers creative power to create their own lesson plans teaching artifacts.
K12 is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.